Cancer victims and their supporters rally, surpass fundraising goal in annual Relay For Life

photo by: Jackson Barton

Cancer survivor Larry Rankin and his wife, Joyce Rankin, finish a lap during the Relay For Life at Rock Chalk Park on June 9, 2019. Larry has survived cancer twice. He has been cancer-free in his esophagus for 14 years and his lungs for two.

Almost 1,000 luminary bags — each one representing someone who died of or is currently fighting cancer — surrounded the Rock Chalk Park track as the local American Cancer Society chapter’s Relay For Life got underway on Friday night.

“I really wish this would be the last relay ever needed,” participant Bob Silipigni said. “But I know that’s not the case.”

This year’s relay raised an estimated $160,000, according to the local chapter of the American Cancer Society, surpassing the goal of $135,000. Around 400 people raised money and took part in this year’s event.

Silipigni, the event’s top fundraiser, raised more than $75,000 this year. Since his first Relay For Life in 2001, he’s raised over $620,000, and he’s beaten his personal fundraising record every year since he started.

photo by: Jackson Barton

From left, cancer survivors Stew Grosser and Nancy Smelser sing “Happy Birthday” to cancer victims at Rock Chalk Park on June 9, 2019. Over 400 people registered to participate in the relay, which lasted until midnight.

“I started out doing it because it was a good cause,” said Silipigni, who is not a cancer survivor himself. “I’m just a relay participant who takes things to extremes.”

Silipigni said he is spiritually driven to make a contribution to the fight against cancer. He said he fundraises by going door-to-door for six hours a day every day of the year, except on Mother’s Day and Easter Sunday.

“I never could have done this without the graciousness of so many people in this community,” Silipigni said. “I’m thankful for that.”

One of the MCs of the event, Nolan Henderson, was there with his 1-year-old son Grit, who was diagnosed with a rare skeletal muscle cancer in February 2018.

“We’re not quite finished yet,” Henderson said of Grit’s treatment. “Eight more months and we can put it all behind us, that’s the hope.”

photo by: Jackson Barton

Nolan Henderson holds his son Grit Henderson during the Relay For Life at Rock Chalk Park on June 9, 2019. Grit was diagnosed with a rare skeletal muscle cancer in February 2018.

Henderson said he was amazed by the turnout Friday night — in addition to the 400 or so people who raised money, there were a few hundred more people at Rock Chalk Park to show their support. He said every time he turned around on the track, he could spot a new group of people.

“It seems like everybody knows somebody (affected by cancer),” Henderson said. “So it’s great to see everybody out here support each other.”

Two-time cancer survivor Larry Rankin and his wife, Joyce, were attending the event for their first time. Larry said he was so happy to see all of the support for those affected by cancer.

Joyce described her husband of 59 years as a fighter.

“Cancer sucks, but you just have to fight through it,” Joyce said.

“We don’t look back, we look ahead,” Larry added.

photo by: Jackson Barton

Luminary bags commerating victims and survivors of cancer surround the inner ring of the track at Rock Chalk Park on June 9, 2019.

photo by: Jackson Barton

Relay For Life participants take part in “Jazzercise” on the Rock Chalk Park sports field on June 7, 2019. The relay raised an estimated $160,000 for the American Cancer Society.

photo by: Jackson Barton

Relay for Life participants inspect the commemorative luminary bags surrounding the track at Rock Chalk Park on June 9, 2019.

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